Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Nobody told me there'd be days like these

It took a while for this cricketing summer to begin and now we don't want it to end
By Sue Mott
The Telegraph

It has been quite simply the greatest costume drama, the greatest reality television and the greatest whodunit witnessed on our screens. Dr Who's Daleks were pretty scary but they didn't make grown men retreat behind the sofa for an entire afternoon. All you could hear beyond the chintz in normally sane households was the clink of beer cans and gibbering.

Cricket, wonderful, glorious, nerve-racking cricket, has truly come of age. Demanding of intellect and redolent of theatre, this Ashes series has provided the most riveting sporting spectacle of the new century. Add to that the best loved, most charismatic villain since Darth Vader in Aussie spin bowler Shane Warne and you have the ingredients that have left us all drained and spellbound simultaneously…

Strange days indeed.

As someone who has sat with pathetic loyalty and infinite weary patience through virtually every ball bowled in the two bleak, agonising decades since England last won the Ashes (including the desperate years when Blighty was officially ranked worst Test nation on the planet), these halcyon days of Aussie-thrashing and world-beating mean a heck of a lot.

So much in fact, that I don’t even bear any resentment to the hordes of Johnny-come-lately cricket 'fans' who have inevitably jumped on the rollicking bandwagon at the sniff of a bit of English sporting success (see also Rugby World Cup triumph, Henmania, Euro 96, Redgrave and Pinsent etc).

There is no doubt that in terms of drama, this series is already the greatest in the 128 year history of Ashes competition. It’s also clear that, after three excruciatingly close finishes in succession – which, for once, England have had the better of – there really is no sport to touch cricket when it comes to sustained tension.

The greatest cricket series ever, coming in the same summer as the greatest comeback in football history in Istanbul, with English teams triumphing all round. These are strange and wonderful days. Let’s cherish them, and buy up all the DVDs.

They’ll keep us warm when the bleak, agonising decades come round again, as they surely must.

Mr Benn goes off on another surreal trip

Bush is the real threat
Tony Benn
Wednesday August 31, 2005
The Guardian

Now that the US president has announced that he has not ruled out an attack on Iran, if it does not abandon its nuclear programme, the Middle East faces a crisis that could dwarf even the dangers arising from the war in Iraq...

Tony Benn is a real oddity. He's a man I find admirable, entertaining, indomitable, principled, and, having witnessed him in action, he’s certainly a brilliant off-the-cuff public speaker.

He’s also completely wrong about almost everything.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What’s £100k in pieces of silver?

The BBC reports the story of a Roman Catholic nun, who is protesting against the filming of the Da Vinci code at Lincoln Cathedral, on the grounds that the book is heretical…

Producers were barred from filming at Westminster Abbey because the book suggests the church is covering up the truth about Jesus' life.

The novel portrays Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering a child.

The Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, the Very Reverend Alec Knight, stepped in and allowed production there.

The film company offered a donation of £100,000.

A nice piece of juxtaposition by the BBC hack there, which reminds Think of England of surely the best question ever asked on a chat show:

Mrs Merton to ('The Lovely™') Debbie McGee: “So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

Monday, August 15, 2005

But where's Richard Burton?

A (relatively rare, recently) trip to the flicks this weekend to see War of the Worlds.

I thought it was a tense, thoroughly enjoyable B-movie style shocker, but it pulled a few punches.

Spielberg chooses a claustrophobic approach, focusing entirely on the nightmare experience of Tom Cruise as he attempts to herd his frustratingly disobedient children to safety. In other words, aside from a brief prologue and epilogue lifted from the HG Wells book, and a few snatches of news reports, he refrains from taking the ‘world’ view of the War of the Worlds.

This commits him to a great family-in-peril thriller, but means that he doesn’t really capture the most powerful and shocking element of the original book: the narrator’s suddenly changed perception of man and his place in the universe: man is not master after all, he is just another pest waiting for extermination. Wells constantly reinforces this disturbing idea with comparisons between humanity’s attitude to insects or farm animals, and the Martians’ attitude to humanity.

Spielberg downplays this element of the story in favour of a different pessimistic idea: the non-heroic hero. Unlike most sci-fi battle stories, the main character does nothing much at all to defeat the enemy. He basically just runs the hell away for the duration of the film, and indeed, spends a good part of it trying to stop his son attempting to defeat the enemy.

In the course of his flight, Cruise steals a car, abandons some women, sacrifices his son in favour of his daughter and kills one of the few humans determined to fight back because he is making too much noise and might give away their hiding place (Tim Robbins, playing an amalgam of the Artilleryman and the Curate).

There are two great set pieces in the film. The second is the hijacking of Cruise’s car by an unruly mob: an uncomfortably believable depiction – shot in the breakneck, hand-held style of Saving Private Ryan – of a total breakdown of order and every-man-for-himself-ism.

The first great set piece is the initial glimpse of the Martian tripod, as it bursts from under the street and starts vaporising fleeing humans, leaving just their clothes floating ghost-like in the breeze.

Unfortunately, this scene is the only excuse I can come up with for Spielberg’s daftest and most unnecessary deviation from the book: it turns out that the Martians have buried these machines underground around the Earth millions of years ago, only to activate them now. Which begs the questions: why would they wait so long to take over the earth?; and how the devil, with all our mines, tunnels and sewer systems, have we failed to notice them before? The Martians in the book are clever, but not that clever, otherwise they wouldn’t be ignorant of the killer germs.

This gripe apart, it’s a pretty darn good film. I’d still like to see a faithful version of the story though, set in 1890s London, with plenty of ‘uuuulaaaaaas’ and soldiers charging in to fight the aliens with cannon and horses.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Flintoff’s Ashes

It was the narrowest margin of victory in all the 308 Ashes matches, pure agony to watch, and miracle of miracles, England bloody won it.

From the Guardian's report:

At the other end Lee was taking a pounding from Flintoff and Harmison of a kind that might, once upon a time, have created a diplomatic incident. Flintoff was brutal, totally uncompromising in pursuit of victory. Several times Lee was struck on the hand and he may require much ice treatment if he is to be fully fit for the third Test.

Once Flintoff, bowling faster than at any time in his life, hit him on the forearm with such ferocity that he threw down his bat as if shot, clutching his arm. The ground gasped at the prospect that he might have suffered a fracture. Each time he rose to fight on, an awesome display of courage in the face of the most savage bombardment that an England attack can have delivered.

Afterwards Flintoff was to pay tribute to a brave warrior. " I tried to bowl him out," he said, "and I tried to knock him out. I tried everything but he just kept coming back. He can be proud of what he did. He bowled great and he batted outstandingly. He is a champion." Hear, hear.

Yes, Lee showed terrific courage.

But after all those years of wincing as Mike Atherton and Nassar ‘Poppadom Fingers” Hussein stoically took a battering for Blighty, isn’t it a nice change that for once it’s us dishing out the poundings, and the Aussies fighting a losing cause.